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Those stinky stink bugs!

Thursday - 3/24/2011, 6:13pm  ET

The enjoyable side of removing stink bugs

Mike McGrath, WTOP's garden guru

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In the House

Toni in Purcellville has had it. She writes: "I got home today and killed about 30 of those stinky stink bugs (because you said to kill them if you see them). I am sick of them! There has got to be something to get rid of these pests. I've had them in my house all winter and now I smell like a skink bug from killing so many. How can we be rid of them for good?"

They're a tough pest, Toni, especially now that they're waking up indoors from their winter hibernation in large numbers. Go online and buy a bug vac to suck up future foes. It's lots of fun and you'll stink no more. Then spend some time this summer sealing up any obvious entry points on the south-facing side of your home -- so you won't have nearly as many guests checking in this fall.

In the Garden

Carrie in Bowie writes: "My veggies did great last year -- until those wretched stink bugs showed up. I've seen lots of chemical controls in stores, but I don't want to put that stuff on anything my kids and I are going to eat, let alone handle or breathe in. Is there anything I can do to keep the stink bugs away from my garden this year that'll kill them and not me and my family?"

Absolutely Carrie. The first thing you want to do is tape a mirror to the end of a hoe and use it to inspect the undersides of your plants' leaves. When you find a cluster of small eggs laid in a geometric pattern, destroy those stinkers-to-be. Then have an organic insecticide containing either neem or spinosad at the ready to spray on any adults; harmless to you, death to the stinkers!

And - in the Future

We've gotten lots of mail about our growing stink bug population. One of the problems is that the most annoying member of this family, the brown mamorated stinker, is a very recent introduction from Asia without any natural enemies on these shores, yet.

I'm pleased to announce that the USDA's Beneficial Insect Lab in Newark, Del. has discovered a miniscule Asian wasp that parasitizes these specific bug's eggs so effectively that an 80 percent control rate is achieved. The wasps will be released after another year or two of study. In the meantime, destroy stink bug egg clusters early in the season and use only organic pesticides against the adults, so you don't accidentally kill any of the good bugs, birds or toads that eat the stinkers.

Do Push Reel Mowers Cut Too Short?

Kathleen in D.C. writes: "I've been using a push reel mower on my small lawn for the last three years, and I LOVE it -- except that its maximum cutting height is only around two inches. I want to follow your lawn care directions exactly and am wondering if I need to get a new mower that can cut to three inches before I cut my grass for the first time this spring."

You're one smart cookie there, Kath. Although push reel mowers provide good exercise and have zero emissions, the majority don't cut high enough for the cool-season grasses like fescue, rye and bluegrass that most of us grow. The GOOD news is that a few models are available that can be adjusted all the way up to the recommended 3-inch cutting height. Oh, and you can give your mower to somebody with a zoysia grass lawn, which is a warm season grass that thrives with a 2-inch cut.

Birdseed Kills Lawns

Steve writes: "I love the 'Garden Plots' on 'TOP! A few years ago I hung a bird feeder in a tree in the front yard, and the bird seed that spilled on the ground seemed to kill the lawn in that spot. Since then, I have fertilized, re-seeded, prayed, offered small animals as sacrifice -- all to no avail. How do I get my moonscape spot to grow grass again?"

It should be safe to spread some compost and reseed the area this August, Steve. Don't try it now. Spring seeding just doesn't work. (And be sure and use a fine fescue if trees shade that spot.)

And let this be a warning to others. Sunflower seed is highly and negatively alleopathic, which means it inhibits the growth of, or just plain kills, other plants. Feed your birds suet in the winter and make sure they have fresh water in the summer. Birdseed just kills lawns, attracts rats and empowers squirrels (who need no help!)